November 20, 2019

No, We Don’t all need to Go Vegan.


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The scale of climate change can feel overwhelming.

What can any of us do in the face of rising sea levels, raging wildfires, and the coming displacement of millions of people?

On our own? Not much. But also not nothing.

Softening the impact of our warming earth will require systemic changes across our society. That’s above my pay grade. But there is also room for each of us to make changes in how we live our lives and to remember that while we’re not in control of what happens, we do have the power to influence the course of events.

One way to exercise our power? Eat a plant-rich diet all week and eat meat only on the weekend.

The climate solutions group Project Drawdown notes that our meat-heavy Western diet creates 20 percent of all emissions worldwide. If the one billion-strong global cattle population were its own country, it would be the third-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions after China and the United States.

In an ideal world, we’d all just go vegan. It’s a simple solution that would make a huge difference.

But my own failed efforts to cut dairy and eggs from my already vegetarian diet remind me that simple and easy are not the same.

Still radical, but more achievable: eat vegan or vegetarian during the week and meat on the weekend. Given that beef is by far the worst form of meat for the climate, we could save red meat for special occasions, as our ancestors often did.

Going plant-based five days a week would mean a 70-percent drop in meat consumption. It would also boost demand for, well, plants, fueling growth opportunities for the kind of regenerative agriculture practices that can further heal the earth and pull carbon from the air

That sounds like a pretty good start to me.

For most Americans, giving up eating meat every day would be a sacrifice. But maybe shared sacrifice is exactly what we need to unite a divided nation. During the World Wars of the 20th century, we understood the importance of every person doing their bit. Our sacrifice today would again remind us that we’re all in this together and we each have a part to play.

Meat on the weekend and beef on holidays could become a new social norm and a way for each of us to take responsibility and serve our community. We do it, we get our friends to do it, and pretty soon, it’s just how we live.

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